The Chicago Bulls are currently on pace to win 45 games this season. However, there is still a chance to pick up that pace and finish the season on a strong note.
There's no doubt that Tom Thibodeau will have his team playing at their highest level every night they step on the court. When the Bulls play at their best, they can hang with the best teams in the league, even without their All-Star point guard Derrick Rose.
The Bulls certainly have the personnel and the mentality to reach and maybe even eclipse the 50-win mark. It's all a matter of whether the team will execute when the going gets tough.
Note: All stats are as of December 28, 2012.
In his first two years as the Bulls' head coach, Tom Thibodeau was able to lead his team to a league-best record in each of those seasons. It will be harder to eclipse 50 wins with Rose missing in action for a majority of the games, but with the way Thibs coaches, it should not be a surprise if they are able to.
The Bulls continue to be one of the best defensive and rebounding teams, allowing just 92.1 points per game and grabbing 42.9 rebounds per game. Thibs' defensive approach to the game allows the Bulls to stay in just about every contest.
Despite their recent struggles against some of the league's tougher competition, the Bulls are a great bounce-back team, with an 8-3 record after coming off a loss, all a testament to how focused Thibodeau has this team.
If Thibs continues to preach defense and get his offense going a little, the Bulls should be in line to have a very strong season.
Richard Hamilton has been nursing a foot injury over the last 12 games, but it seems he might be ready to return. He spoke with the Chicago Tribune and said his chances to play in the Bulls' next game were "looking pretty good."
Whether Rip returns to the starting lineup or comes off the bench, his scoring is something the Bulls will welcome back with open arms as Chicago's bench has averaged just 27.9 points in December.
Rip will have a big advantage playing with the second unit as he'll be the go-to guy and also be up against the opponents' backups. Should Marco Belinelli return to the bench, as long as he's able to perform like he did as a starter, the Bulls' bench will greatly improve.
It will ultimately be up to Thibodeau who goes to the bench and who starts, but either way, Chicago's bench is looking at a big upgrade once Hamilton returns to action.
Second-year forward Jimmy Butler seems to have found a nice place within the rotation. With just over 18 minutes per game, he's averaging over five points a game while shooting over 50 percent.
I believe that his biggest contribution has come on the boards, though.
He's averaging just one offensive rebound per game, but it's usually a put-back dunk or lay-up, leading to easy points for the Bulls. He's also turning into one of the Bulls' better one-on-one defenders.
Taj Gibson has struggled to get going and is currently on pace to finish with career lows in just about every category. However, Gibson is perhaps the most solid and complete player on the Bulls' bench, making him a key player as the Bulls continue to fight this season.
Nate Robinson is the leading scorer off the bench, and he can light it up on any given night. He's a high-risk, high-reward player, but so far he's been fairly solid for Chicago.
Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer have to continue leading the team. They are the Bulls' top scorers and lead the team in just about every major statistical category (with the exception of assists).
They'll have to continue to hold down the fort until Rose returns. Deng's shooting will have to improve, as well as Boozer's defense. But with Thibs behind them, it's not something that is too far-fetched.
They just have to continue playing to their strengths.
Boozer's size and quickness gives him an advantage over most big men that guard him. Let's not forget that he also has a very good mid-range shot.
Deng's ability to cut to the basket without the ball is something that the Bulls should keep going to; he just needs to hit his jumpers more consistently.
Noah's passing and presence on the boards has to remain at a high level.
The Bulls chances to break 50 wins should be reachable if their three key players can continue playing at a high level.
It's only a matter of time before Derrick Rose sees the court again, and according to Tom Thibodeau, Rose's progress keeps getting better and better.
Once Rose returns, it should leave the Bulls with a great shot to improve their record, and consequently, their seed for the playoffs. While there is still no timetable for when Rose will come back, it seems that it will be sooner rather than later.
If he's able to play after the All-Star break, the Bulls will have about 30 games with Rose in the lineup. If history tells us anything, Chicago should be able to win most of those games with Rose.